Augusta National, the exclusive private all-male club where the Masters golf tournament is held every year, is dealing with a new gender issue: whether or not to admit a woman (the shock! the horror!) to its secretive, private membership. Augusta’s difficulty with this issue isn’t surprising (let’s remember that they didn’t admit black men until 1990 and used to require that all golfers be white and all caddies be black), but it’s still pretty disheartening that one of the most exclusive and important private clubs in the U.S. still hasn’t opened its doors to even the most elite of women.
This issue has come up because there are only three sponsors of the Masters tournament: I.B.M., AT&T, and ExxonMobil. Traditionally, the CEO of each company has been offered membership in Augusta upon the company’s sponsorship of the tournament. That wasn’t a problem until this year, because I.B.M.’s new CEO Ginni Rometty is female.
Cassie Murdoch wrote on Jezebel about this issue, and about how Augusta is (finally) between a rock and a hard place:
So what are they going to do? Will they break with tradition and deny the CEO of one of their most valued sponsors a membership? Or will they break with tradition and finally let a woman into their super secret special he-man woman haters club? Spokespeople for the Masters and for IBM both declined to comment on the issue, and whatever they do, they’ll probably do it behind closed doors, as is their tradition. Seeing a theme here? It’s very traditional, you see. Patrick Rishe, a professor of sports business at Webster University, told Bloomberg these kinds of clubs are “clever in terms of the language they use and their rule books.” Meaning they might just add an exception for top execs of their big sponsors, not everyone.
It remains to be seen whether IBM, who has been sponsoring the tournament for over 10 years, will pressure Augusta into admitting their CEO. They are keeping quiet on the issue, as is Rometty. But some are saying that I.B.M. has a moral obligation to its CEO, female employees and female customers to not let this issue go quietly. “I think the board of directors and Sam Palmisano has to tell Augusta National to extend membership to their new C.E.O. and if it doesn’t, they will pull the sponsorship,” said Martha Burk (who has led a protest against the male-only policies of Augusta before), referring to the company’s chairman. “If they don’t, they are saying that the values of the club are the values of the company.”
It’s clearly time to let women suit up. Green can be our color, too.